Community education for Abu Dhabi kids

Teaching children to be active in their community does not need to be hard


Teaching children to be active in their community isn’t easy, but it’s important. Liz Totton investigates how one school has implemented a service programme and leads by example.

In a prosperous city like Abu Dhabi, kids may grow up without feeling firmly rooted in their community and without ever seeing the face of poverty, knowing life’s challenges or being forced to feel impact of weighty global issues, such as climate change, deforestation and animal extinction.

Thankfully, several local schools include a service component to their curriculum to combat such a lack of awareness and to teach the capital’s children to be activists and environmental stewards. One such shining example is the American Community School’s (ACS) Roots & Shoots after-school programme.


ACS in Khalidiyah has been in existence since 1972. It is one of the more established international schools in the capital and is a leader in its curriculum and its extracurricular offerings. It’s no surprise that ACS’s student service initiatives serve as a model for other schools in town. Global citizenship and service are a part of the school’s mission statement and are an essential part of the school experience for every student.

ACS was one of the first schools in the capital to integrate the Jane Goodall Institute’s global, environmental and humanitarian programme, Roots & Shoots, into its community service programme.


Dr. Jane Goodall is a famed primatologist who works with chimpanzees alongside her mentor, Louis Leaky, a Kenyan archaeologist and palaeontologist. She dedicated her life to the study of chimpanzees and now focuses her energy on education designed to save our planet via outreach projects involving children, such as Roots & Shoots.

The programme is a community service for school children. Its mission is to foster respect and compassion for all living things, to promote understanding of all cultures and beliefs, and to inspire each individual to take action and make the world a better place for the environment, animals and the human community.


Valerie Cox, communications director for ACS, tells us that, ‘Adding the Roots & Shoots programme to our long list of community service initiatives was a natural fit. We were already doing the variety of service work required to be part of Roots & Shoots, which obliges participating school groups to fulfil a certain number and type of local and global community service projects annually.’

At ACS, Roots & Shoots is administered as a student led, after-school programme that builds on the legacy and vision of Dr. Jane Goodall to place the power and responsibility for creating community based solutions to big challenges in the hands of the young people. Through the programme, young people map their community to identify specific challenges their neighbourhoods face. From there, they prioritise the problems, develop a plan for a solution, and take action.



Roots & Shoots was started at ACS five years ago for student Grades 3-5 and has since been expanded to include every grade. It performs a variety of service activities every year. Some highlights include planting indigenous ghaf trees, ‘bus raids’ by primary students to deliver boxed collected food to labourers, Valentine’s for school workers, a mangrove clean-up and educational tour, ring tab collection, water conservation and a shirt collection that the Habitat for Humanity students delivered to a school in Tamil Nadu, India.

Dr. Jane Goodall was recently in town to speak and she visited the school’s Roots & Shoots students. It was thrilling to the students, many of whom consider her a heroine. An ACS high school student was quoted as saying, ‘As an activist, it is a goal of mine to create a safe environment for those around me. As Dr. Jane says in her videos, if there are several people trying to make changes in small areas, it eventually becomes a global impact.’ And an ACS parent offered, ‘Listening to Jane speak reminded me of the importance of self-restraint.

We need to restrain our demand for food, money and material things. We are one planet, and we need to share.’

Roots & Shoots
‘Roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation. Shoots seem very weak, but to reach the light, they can break open brick walls. Imagine that the brick walls are all the problems we have inflicted on our planet. Hundreds of thousands of roots and shoots, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world, can break through these walls. We CAN change the world.’ – Dr. Jane Goodall

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